From January 2006 I am spending 9 months working on a voluntary art project for the Artcorps in Guatemala. I am working for Fundación Riecken, an NGO who are constructing libraries in Honduras and Guatemala. I will be artist-in-residence at libraries in Chiché and Zacualpa, in the Quiché region of Guatemala. I also plan to do a little travelling along the way...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hallowe`en Guatemala style

In the run-up to All Saint`s Day (1st Nov), otherwise known as the Day of the Dead, Guatemala becomes even more colourful than normal as street vendors display gaudy decorations to adorn graves and big kites in every shape imaginable appear everywhere, fluttering in breeze. November is kite season, and the skies of Guatemala become ablaze with flitting shapes of colour. The tradition originates from the desire to enable the spirits of the dead to connect with living relatives and the kites symbolise the spirits flying overhead.

For me, this time of year indicates something more celtic in origin… Hallowe`en, of course! It was interesting to be in the mix of Hallowe`en and Day of the Dead and to draw comparisons between the two. I have also learnt more about the origins of Hallowe`en here than anywhere else, because rather than taking it for granted as we tend to do back home, it is a relatively new concept here, thereby fuelling an abundance of Hallowe`en descriptions, stories and articles in the press.
I managed to maintain some steadfast Hallowe`en traditions this year with an added Guatemalan twist. Mistress Jecca, the other half of my Manhatten Hallowe`en parade double act jumped on her broomstick and we celebrated Hallow`s eve in true festive style, dancing and twisting around the fire like true witches, bonding with a medley of the usual ghoulish creatures and other worldly beings. We, deciding to conform to the American style of celebrating Hallowe`en, picked a costume out of the all-encompassing hat of “whatever” fancy dress and transformed ourselves into a pair of very colourful ostriches, complete with appropriate “quetzal tail” feathers (the quetzal is the extremely elusive and stunningly beautiful national bird of Guatemala, famous for its long tail feathers) and trays of giant insect-inhabited sand to bury our heads in, should any untoward circumstances arise. We had a fine time partying in the courtyards of a truly spectacular Antiguan colonial house, with the usual ghosts and bats, uprooted from their usual glamfrockeresque haunts, comfortably installed in residence for the occasion.
The dressing up did not stop there. I took Jecca to the lake of Atitlan, destination: La Iguana Perdida, a fun backpackers place with a long-running weekly trans-gender dressing-up affair, an event I felt I could not leave Guatemala without experiencing. Sadly with such high standards in the costume party world, it did not live up to my expectations, but we had a royal time trying on an array of extremely questionable garments (when was the last time they were washed, we wondered, choking from the clouds of spores released into the atmosphere every time we moved!) along the lines of extreme bad taste (Jecca in a taffeta ballgown, Anita in an awesome 70s embroidered denim jumpsuit and moi in a true cross-dresser`s red sequinned fantasy. Priscilla at her best! All held together with clothes pegs…!)

We bumped into some friends and went hiking around the crater of the lake – the entire lake is the crater of a long-extinct monster volcano, and the impressive cones looming around its shores are mere baby younglings – stopping for stunning views, breath recovery sessions and jeep advertisement promotions. At the end of all the fun, the much-loved Jec returned to her silicon homeland leaving me to prepare for my next adventure…

On November 1st, the whole of Guatemala takes to the cemetery to spend the day with the spirits of their deceased. I hopped over to Sumpango, famous for its kite competition. You have never seen kites as big as this. I mean, they are huge! So huge that the biggest ones are not designed to be airborne. Associations and families create exquisitely detailed works of art and compete in categories according to size. One by one the kites are launched into the sky with teams of men heaving and running and pulling, and most scurry briefly overhead before flailing and plummeting down to earth again, sometimes crashing upon impact. The fact that there was very little wind that day did not help, although we all marvelled as one floated aloft for over half an hour. For an artist, it was a rich experience indeed. ¡Que linda tradiciòn!


At 3:39 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ostrich dresses are kinda hard to recognize, it's more like you both have a piece of cheddar in your mouth....

But the extreme big kites are so (&*%$@# cool, wish I've seen that in real life.



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